Ethos Education

Student Protests November 2010: What is the best way for ordinary people to register dissent to government policy?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Consideration of the tension between personal conviction and authority.
  • Awareness of different forms of protest.
  • Awareness of the role of local, national and international pressure groups.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon different methods of protest against perceived injustice.
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of different methods of protest.
  • Consider what factors a Christian might take into account in deciding how to protest.
  • Reflect upon a specific instance of a large-scale protest that a significant number of Christians were involved in.
  • Analyse different means of protest and assess how likely it would be that a Christian would be willing to undertake them.

STARTER:

Write some provocative statements up on the board – things which are likely to divide the opinions of the class. For example:

  • Chelsea are the best football team in Britain.
  • Wagner was the best thing on The X-Factor.
  • Avatar is a dull film which, apart from the special effects, has no merit whatsoever.
  • The Queen does a great job, and provides the nation with value for money.
  • Vegetarianism is morally right, and eating meat is morally wrong.
  • University education should be paid for by the government, not by individual students.

Ask students to indicate whether or not they agree with each of the statements by means of a show of hands. In the unlikely event that the entire class agrees on all of the statements, you could give the students the challenge of coming up with a statement that would divide their opinions.

Now ask the students how they would go about the task of changing the opinion of somebody who disagreed with them. Emphasise that you are more concerned with the process and approach that they might use, rather than the actual opinions themselves.

Explain that in this lesson you will be thinking about how ordinary members of British society go about the task of changing the opinions of politicians and other decision makers, how people express disagreement with government policy and what difference Christian faith makes to this process.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Remind the students of the November 2010 protests against government plans to allow Universities to raise tuition fees for students. Ask if any of the students can summarise what happened on the protest march on 10th November 2010. The main facts are that an initially peaceful protest turned violent when a group of protesters successfully broke in to the Conservative Party offices at Millbank. You could give out the following news report:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11729912

Ask the students whether they think the protesters were justified in breaking into the office building and causing damage once there. What about the more violent aspects of the protest, such as throwing missiles at the police?

Point out that the protest was meant to be a peaceful one. In the BBC news article, National Union of Students president Aaron Porter is described as being ‘aghast’ at the violence, and claims that the protest was ‘hijacked’. Do the students feel that the protest would have been more or less useful to the students’ cause if the original plan for a peaceful protest had taken place without the violence or damage to property?

Brainstorm a list of alternative methods of protesting against a perceived injustice. If the class needs some prompting, you could suggest all or some of the following: petitions; acts of terrorism; hostage taking; mass demonstrations; writing books or magazine articles about the issue; standing as a candidate at a local or national election. Allow a little time for the class to discuss which of the suggested methods were most likely to be effective, and which ones least likely.

Ask the students what factors they think Christians would be likely to take into account when deciding how to protest against something. Bible passages such as Romans 13:1-5, Daniel 3:1-30 and 6:1-28 may be useful points of reference. The overall position suggested by the Bible is that Christians should respect all earthly authority (including governments), recognising that God has established all authority, and that it only exists because he permits it to continue. This is not the same as saying they believe that God always agrees with what people in authority do. Christians believe that those who wield authority will one day have to answer to God for their actions. Traditionally Christians do not consider themselves free to break laws just because they disagree with them. However, there may be occasions where a law directly contradicts God, in which case most Christians would consider it right to honour the higher authority of God’s law (as demonstrated in the two passages from Daniel mentioned above).

As an illustration of Christian protest against institutionalised injustice, ask if the students heard about the Jubilee 2000 campaign. Jubilee 2000 was a totally peaceful and legal campaign to put pressure on Western Governments to cancel the debt burden of the poorest countries in the world. Jubilee 2000 has now evolved into Jubilee Research. You can find a brief summary of who they are and who Jubilee 2000 were on their website (see below). If you think it would be helpful, you could print out copies for the students.

www.jubilee2000uk.org/about/about.htm

Stephen Timms is the Labour MP for East Ham. The following extracts have been taken from a speech he made at the Annual General Meeting of the Christian Socialist Movement in March 2000. If you want the full text of the speech (which takes about eleven pages when printed) you can find it at:

http://static1.squarespace.com/static/528f75f9e4b04c46c4559764/t/529cc3e9e4b0d8d4512e8ae7/1386005481597/CSM+AGM+25+march+2000.pdf

Take the remarkable impact of the Jubilee 2000 campaign over the past three years. It is extraordinary to see how that campaign has been taken up right across the spectrum of the churches. From the black churches in my part of London to the noticeboards of churches in some of the most affluent parts of the country – alongside the posters for Spring Harvest and the Alpha Group – Jubilee 2000 has been there. Something pretty remarkable has happened. Of course, Jubilee 2000 has not been an exclusively church campaign. It has won very wide support, and that has been one of its glories. But the fact is that 80% of those who have participated in those human chains and sent in those Jubilee 2000 postcards with one pound coins sellotaped to the back of them – 80% of them were from the churches. It is from the churches that the campaign has derived its energy and its vigour. There has been nothing like it since the campaign against the slave trade.

And, of course, the campaign has achieved its objective in Britain. Just before the end of last year, the Chancellor announced that all the debts owed to Britain by the world’s poorest countries were to be cancelled, once they had poverty reduction plans in place to demonstrate that the money would be used to reduce poverty.

Read these extracts to the class, and point out that although Jubilee 2000 was not a specifically Christian organisation, it is probably fair to say that without the commitment of individual Christians, it would never have achieved its objectives.

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a series of letters to newspapers, arguing over the merits of the 10th November student protests. The letters should put forward different arguments about the best way of protesting against increased tuition fees, and should reflect an understanding of how Christian faith might influence someone’s opinion on what is an appropriate or inappropriate way to oppose government policy.

YOU WILL NEED:

  • Copies of the internet news story.
  • Bibles.

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